The Ladies of the House of Love: The Rosenbach’s Feminist & Queer Gothic Literature Book Club

Date / Time

  • October 10, 2023
    6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
  • November 14, 2023
    6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
  • December 12, 2023
    6:30 pm - 8:00 pm


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As a literary genre, the Gothic is often associated with ominous castles, dark, stormy nights, and people fleeing from unnamed horrors. But the Gothic is—and always has been—much more complicated and interesting than this, because it uses gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and the erotic to hint at the radical potential inherent in all of us. The Ladies of the House of Love book club reads historic and contemporary works of Gothic fiction inspired by the Rosenbach’s collections. Each month, the club cozies up in the candle-lit, historic West Library of the Rosenbach mansion, views objects from the collection, and discusses the Gothic’s connections to gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity.*   

Gothic novels often ask readers to consider — and be suspicious of — social structures. As such, we focus on writers from the “margins”— Queer people, women, and People of Color, for instance — grappling with how they question society and their characters’ places in it. Each club meeting will touch on the roots of the Gothic in the 18th and 19th centuries but focus on 21st-century themes. Join us for this special autumn season of the book club, as we engage with the theme “Vampirism & the Erotic.” 

*For the safety of collections, battery-operated electronic candles will be used. 

Meeting 1: Tuesday, October 10, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.  Bram Stoker, Dracula 

This season of The Ladies of the House of Love book club begins with the monumental classic of Gothic horror: Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1847-1912). Though the character of Count Dracula has emerged as a one-dimensional pop culture presence in modern times, Stoker’s erotically charged novel is laced with gender and sexual ambiguity that opens opportunities for Feminist and Queer critiques. This book club session will focus on reading Dracula through Queer and Feminist theoretical lenses and will also consider Stoker’s work within the context of British imperialism and ethnic politics at the end of the 1800s.  

As part of the book club meeting, participants will view selections from Bram Stoker’s manuscript notes for Dracula as well as other treasures from the Rosenbach’s Gothic literature collection — all in the candle-lit West Library.  


Meeting 2: Tuesday, November 14, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.  S.T. Gibson, A Dowry of Blood 

Remember those three brides of Dracula, whom Jonathan Harker meets at the Count’s castle in Bram Stoker’s famous novel? S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood offers an erotic, Queer, polyamorous reimagining of these mysterious characters. It’s the perfect follow-up to Dracula that plays with many of the themes Stoker himself embedded into his classic novel.  

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, in A Dowry of Blood, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. 

Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets. With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death. Writing in The New York Times, Hannah Whitten called A Dowry of Blood “a dizzying nightmare of a romance that will leave you aching, angry and ultimately hopeful.” 

Special Rosenbach collection items to be showcased as part of the discussion of A Dowry of Blood include erotic Lesbian love poetry dating from in the early twentieth century, as well as selections from Bram Stoker’s Dracula notes relating to the novel’s female characters. 


Meeting 3: Tuesday, December 12, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.  Jewelle Gomez, The Gilda Stories 

Jewelle Gomez’s riveting novel applies the themes and tropes of the Gothic and the vampire legend to an examination of the legacies of enslavement in America — through a Lesbian love story. Young Gilda flees enslavement in the American South and enters the care of a vampire. Gilda experiences evolving American life over many decades, living more than one hundred years before she truly can begin to process the lasting damage of enslavement. Though the book’s plot may seem fantastical, The Gilda Stories focuses on themes that will read as familiar to many BIPOC and Queer people today: dealing with intergenerational trauma and building a “found family” in the search for affirmation, fulfillment, and a safe place in an often-hostile world. 

Rosenbach collection items to be viewed as part of the book club discussion include rare books and handwritten documents relating to the history of enslavement in the Americas, and the U.S. Civil War.  

Following the final session of the book club’s fall season, the Rosenbach will host a complimentary wine-and-cheese reception for all club participants, both past and present. The book club facilitators will provide more information to book club members via email. 


Book Club Facilitators

Dr. Petra Clark is a literary historian, educator, and library professional. She earned her PhD in English from the University of Delaware in 2019 with a specialization in Victorian literature and art, particularly focusing on magazines created by and for women during the late nineteenth century. Petra has taught college courses on everything from research writing and feminist literature to comics history and monster media, as well as a recent Rosenbach course on the artist Aubrey Beardsley. She currently works in the Special Collections department at the University of Delaware Library, but when she isn’t haunting the rare books stacks, she can usually be found reading creepy fiction with her cats.

Dr. Samantha Nystrom is an avid fan of reading, painting, baking, playing Scrabble, and analyzing stories. She learned how to do such narrative pondering during her time at the University of Delaware, where she received her PhD in English Literature. While at UD, she taught classes ranging from film studies to British Literature to composition, which focused on how identities are constructed and represented. Her class on British Literature, for example, focused on texts with the monstrous other, asking students:  Who is the true monster? Her research asked questions about the role gardens and landscapes had in constructing personal, national, and imperial identities within 19th-century Britain; her work on Walter Scott and Gothic landscapes and architecture will soon be published in the peer-reviewed journal, Studies in Romanticism. She currently lives in Philadelphia with her vampiric cat, Percy, and is a writer at Jefferson. 

Dr. Alexander Lawrence Ames, Director of Outreach & Engagement at the Rosenbach Museum & Library, vividly recalls his teenage experiences with Gothic literature: terrifying himself so thoroughly with J.S. LeFanu’s Uncle Silas that he dared not leave his bedroom, falling under the spell of Mrs. Radcliffe’s enchanting countrysides in The Romance of the Forest, feeling the pangs of youthful longing for the noble young Valancourt in The Mysteries of Udolpho, and hearing Mr. Rochester’s voice on the wind in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Dr. Ames will lead artifact show-and-tell sessions at each meeting of Ladies of the House of Love, to help club members situate book club selections in the context of the Rosenbach’s collections. When not hosting book clubs or curating Rosenbach exhibitions, Dr. Ames is likely playing haunting melodies on his Celtic harp or strolling pensively across the castle grounds as twilight breaks.  


Book Purchase 

The Rosenbach has partnered with Harriett’s Bookshop of Philadelphia to supply copies of book club selections at reasonable prices. Order your books here: Learn more about Harriett’s Bookshop here: